Interview: Alex Schady – Artist and Director of the Art Programme at Central Saint Martins

Organised as an alternative to physical degree shows, in response to Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown, the 2020 UAL Graduate Showcase is currently running online. Last week, we featured interviews with Erika Trotzig and John Antony Thadicaran, two students graduating from Central Saint Martins (CSM), one of UAL’s largest colleges. Concluding our coverage of CSM, we speak here to Alex Schady, CSM’s Art Programme Director.

Schady is an artist whose own practice encompasses drawing, video, sculpture and performance, with his work shown in leading art spaces, such as Camden Arts Centre. He is also a co-founder of Five Years Gallery, an artist-run space that establishes a direct relationship between programming, curation and practice.

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‘Sculp Proposition’ (2020), performance made for zoom, by Alex Schady.

The Net Gallery: Can you give a sense of the different subject areas you aim to cover through the Art Programme at CSM and how you arrived at the mixture of courses you currently offer?

Alex Schady: The Art Programme is made up of five courses: BA Fine Art, MA Fine Art, MA Photography, MA Art & Science and MRES Art (three pathways – MRES Exhibition Studies, Moving Image, Theory and Philosophy). The courses have evolved over time with new courses developed in response to the shifting disciplinary areas. I think it’s important that universities respond to the social, political and economic reality in which they exist, and understand the impact that this has on the academic disciplines that they help to mould.

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Work by BA Fine Art students exhibited at the 2019 CSM degree show. Photo by John Sturrock.

TNG: The CSM campus and building is quite an amazing place, at the heart of a dynamic part of London. How important is the building to what you do and what unique benefits does it offer as a space for learning?

AS: I think the building is significant and important for a number of reasons. The old building on Charing Cross Road conformed to a very romantic idea of the artist’s studio, but this comes with a lot of baggage and problematic ideas. The labyrinthine structure allowed for limited contact between courses and promoted an idea of the artist locked away in their garret waiting to be discovered. The new building encourages encounters between students from different courses, promoting cross disciplinary activity in an art school that maintains the full range of disciplines. In addition to this, I think its location at the centre of an area of redevelopment with all the political and socio-economic questions that this provokes is incredibly significant. Questions about who is displaced in this kind of re-generation and what role the arts might have in challenging problematic power structures are unavoidable for students in this context. Fine Art at CSM has always produced a very politicised student body questioning the role of art in society.

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Students from CSM participating in Tate Exchange – an annual event that features the full Art Programme. Photo by Belinda Lawley.

TNG: How difficult has been to adapt to lockdown this year, in regard to teaching in general, but also specifically in regard to preparing for the end of year degree shows?

AS: Adapting to lockdown has been difficult for everyone, however, I do think that artists have always responded to circumstances and the environment in which they find themselves, and this has been no exception. There have been challenges, undoubtedly, particularly for those students invested in materially driven practices, but the resilience and adaptability of the students has been truly remarkable. The Graduate Showcase is clearly very different from a conventional degree show, but it does come with new opportunities that our students have been quick to exploit. The shows are on for a whole year (not just a long weekend) and what is on show is in flux with new works uploaded and different collections presented to the audience.

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‘Saturn 001’, Mixed media costume/sculptural object, by Alex Schady.

TNG: I’ve spoken to a number of artists who also work as teachers, lecturers and departmental leaders. Many talk about the synergy they find between teaching and practising art, and how the two feed-off of each other in a beneficial way. It’s also clear, however, that it can be difficult to find time to concentrate on both. How do you personally find the balance between teaching and your own practice?

AS: I’m fortunate that my practice slots in well to a busy schedule. I work digitally and with physical materials, and shift between the two depending on whether I can make it to the studio or if I’m working from home. The emergency and excitement of working with students definitely feeds my practice. There is a sense of urgency amongst the students (the work they are making needs to be made) and this definitely is contagious.

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‘Ball Games’ – a collaborative performance by Alex Schady with young people from Copenhagen Primary School.

Interview by Richard Unwin.

You can follow Alex on Instagram, here.

The 2020 UAL Graduate Showcase is available to view, here.

The image at the top of the page shows Alex Schady counting down a silent auction of work by 2020 graduates at CSM. Photo by Belinda Lawley.

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